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  • Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

    A Survivor's Account
    of the Goliad Massacre

    Introduced by Murray Montgomery
    Murray Montgomery

    There is a day in Texas history that quite possibly could be considered one of the most tragic. On that day, March 27, 1836, General Santa Anna ordered the execution of some 380 Texas army soldiers - they were prisoners of war. The men were part of the command of Col. James W. Fannin, Jr. and they had surrendered to the Mexican army on March 20, 1836, at the battle of Coleto Creek. Fannin had received assurances from the Mexican field commander, Gen. Jose Urrea, that the Texans would eventually be paroled and sent to New Orleans. Although Urrea probably had good intentions, Santa Anna over-ruled him and commanded that the prisoners be slaughtered.

    A young German by the name of Hermann Ehrenberg was in the Texas army and was one of the few that escaped the Goliad massacre. Ehrenberg wrote about his experiences in the Texas Revolution; selected passages from his work, "A Campaign in Texas" appeared in The Gonzales Inquirer in 1853.

    Ehrenberg was an eyewitness and participant in this historic event - he wrote about it 17 years later. I'm of the opinion that his memory was still very clear and I'd be inclined to believe his description of what really took place on that terrible day.

    Following are excerpts of Ehrenberg's article as he tells of his experience on that tragic Palm Sunday in 1836. (Note: The spelling and grammar is that of the author, nothing has been changed in the article).

    Grave of Fannin and men
    Mass Grave of Fannin and his men, view through an adjoining cemetery
    TE photo

    A Survivor's Account of the Goliad Massacre

    The Gonzales Inquirer - December 3, 1853
    By Hermann Ehrenberg

    After the names had been called, the order to march was given, and we filed out through the gates of the fortress, the Greys [New Orleans Greys, a volunteer unit from Louisiana] taking the lead. Outside the gate we were received by two detachments of Mexican infantry, who marched along on either side of us, in the same order as ourselves. We were 400 in number, and the enemy about 700, not including the cavalry, of which numerous small groups were scattered about the prairie.

    We marched in silence, not, however, in the direction we had anticipated, but along the road to Victoria. This surprised us but, upon reflection, we concluded that they were conducting us to some eastern port, thence to be shipped to New Orleans, which, upon the whole, was perhaps the best and shortest plan.

    There was something, however, in the profound silence of the Mexican soldiers, who are usually unceasing chatters, that inspired me with a feeling of uneasiness and anxiety. It was like a funeral march, and truly might it be so called. Presently I turned my head to see if Miller's people had joined, and were marching with us. But to my extreme astonishment, neither they nor Fannin's men or the battalion, were to be seen.

    Goliad Mexican soldier reenactors
    Mexican soldier reenactors at Goliad
    Photo courtesy Jerry Tubbs

    They had separated from us without our observing it, and the detachment with which I was marching consisted only of the Greys and a few Texan colonists. Glancing at the escort, their full dress uniform, and the absence of all baggage, now for the first time struck me. I thought of the bloody scenes that had occurred at Tampico, San Patricio, and the Alamo, of the false and cruel character of those in whose power we were, and I was seized with a presentiment of evil.

    A quarter of an hour had elapsed since our departure from the fort, when suddenly the command was given in Spanish to wheel to the left, leaving the road: and as we did not understand the order, the officer himself went in front to show the way, and my companions followed without taking any particular notice of the change of direction.

    We were marched along the side of the hedge towards the stream, and suddenly the thought flashed across us, "Why are they taking us in this direction?" The appearance of a number of lancers, cantering about in the fields on our right, also startled us; and just as the foot soldiers who had been marching between us and the hedge, changed their places, and joined those of their comrades, who guarded us on the other hand.

    Before we could divine the reason of this maneuver the word was soon given to halt. It came like a sentence of death; for at the same moment it was uttered, the sound of a volley of musketry echoed across the prairie. We then thought of our comrades and our probable fate.

    "Kneel down!" Now burst in harsh accents from the lips of the Mexican commander. No one stirred. Few of us understood the order, and those who did would not obey. The Mexican soldiers, who stood at about three paces from us, leveled their muskets at our breasts. Even then we could hardly believe that they meant to shoot us; for if we had, we should assuredly have rushed forward in our desperation, and, weaponless though we were, some of our murders would have met their death at our hands.

    The sound of a second volley, from a different direction then the first just then reached our ears, and was followed by a confused cry, as if those at whom it had been aimed, had not all been immediately killed. A thick cloud of smoke was wreathing and curling towards the San Antonio River.

    The blood of our lieutenant was on my clothes, and around me lay my friends convulsed with their last agony. I saw nothing more. Unhurt myself, I sprang up and, concealed by the thick smoke, fled along the hedge in the direction of the river, the noise of the water for my guide.

    On I went, the river rolled at my feet, the shouting and yelling behind. "Texas forever!" And without a moment's hesitation, I plunged into the water. The bullets whistled round me as I swam slowly and wearily to the other side, but none wounded me.

    Whilst these horrible scenes were occurring on the prairies, Col. Fannin and his wounded companions were shot and bayoneted at Goliad, only Dr. Shackleford and a few hospital aids having their lives spared, in order that they might attend the wounded Mexicans.

    Lone Star Diary March, 2001 Column
    Published with permission.

    Massacre at Goliad

    Goliad Massacre
    & Related Stories

  • Massacre at Goliad: A Texas Tragedy by Jeffery Robenalt
    The massacre at Goliad branded Santa Anna as an inhuman despot and the Mexican people, whether deserved or not, with a reputation for cruelty. As a result of the needless slaughter, a burning desire for revenge arose among the people of Texas, and Americans became firmly united behind the Texas cause of independence.
  • The Life and Times of a Goliad Survivor by Murray Montgomery
    The story of Hermann Ehrenberg
  • A Soldier's Story by Bob Bowman (From "All Things Historical")
    Milton Irish, one of only 28 survivors of the massacre.
  • Thomas Deye Owings of Maryland, Kentucky and Texas by W. T. Block Jr.
    "He was a colonel and hero of the War of 1812 [and] was Kentucky's original industrialist and iron master, also holding several political offices. He was also commissioned by Stephen F. Austin in Jan. 1836 to raise 2 regiments of Kentuckians to fight for Texas Independence from Mexico, sacrificing as a result the life of one of his sons during the Goliad Massacre..."

  • Goliad, Texas
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